P.S. 243 Family Fun Field Day

Mr. Justin from FAN4Kids, awesome CFK volunteers, & adorable P.S. 243 students!

Aside from the days the school cafeteria served chicken nuggets for lunch, there was nothing I looked forward to more in elementary school than Field Day. Each spring, the entire grade would gather together on the playground for some fun in the sun. The Egg Walk; Over, Under; Dizzy Bat; Water Balloon Toss (my favorite relay race); all culminating in the final showdown: Class Tug of War.

Last Saturday, May 19th, I took part in the excitement again; this time at Change for Kids‘ inaugural Family Fun Field Day at P.S. 243 in Brooklyn. Over 75 students, parents, and community members joined CFK and FAN4Kids, our healthy living partner, for a bit of friendly competition in kickball, bowling, basketball, and — of course — a water balloon toss!

My favorite little guy of the day!

In addition to fun games and races, we provided a nutritious lunch for the kids and their families. Gone were my beloved chicken nuggets, replaced with: cucumber salad, no-mayo tuna salad (yep…you read that right…NO MAYO!), and peanut butter & banana sandwiches.

All in all, it was an incredibly successful first-go at what CFK hopes will become a much-anticipated and highly-attended annual event at each of our partner schools. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Field Day, when I can lace up, line up, and set off down the relay race track!

2 New Arts Programs = 1 Brighter Brooklyn

Thanks to all of your hard work last year, our art and music programs grew too big for the play room. As a result, our Bedford-Stuyvesant school is starting the semester with brand new violin and art classes. Our current definition of enchanting: watching 30 eight-year-olds pick up a violin for the first time and be totally thrilled just to tuck them under their little chins. While we’re waiting (impatiently) to hear our first “Hot-Cross Buns” or “Twinkle, Twinkle,” Mr. Kerrick Sasaki, will (very patiently) spend two days a week teaching the basics of violin performance technique, throwing in a little music theory for good measure. If the enthusiasm from the first week is any indicator, we expect to see our musicians gracing the stage of Carnegie Hall in no time (we like to aim high here at CFK).

Meanwhile, the fifth-graders are gearing up for the trifecta of all educational experiences – self-expression, local history, and world connections. For the next 12 weeks, they’ll be honing their artistic skills and getting their hands dirty with a social studies-based art project designed by the Children’s Museum of the Arts (CMA). As early as 1838– 25 years before Lincoln freed all slaves during the Civil War–a colony of free black families owned the land surrounding the school. The community was called Weeksville, after James Weeks, and at its height was home to 700 families. Today, four of the original houses are still standing only a few blocks from the school…a perfect excuse for a art/history mashup if ever we heard one.

This spring, with the help of some awesome friends at CMA, the 5th graders will be completing a multi-media project to document their incredibly historic and unique neighborhood. At CFK, we love it when we can find new and creative ways to make our students’ textbooks come to life, and what better way to learn about black history and the Civil War era than by painting, sketching, and building a model of the structures and sites that are literally in their own backyards? Their one-of-a-kind works will be on display to the public at CMA early this summer – and we’ll be first in line to check them out.

Modern Ink Feature!

We’ve been drooling for a week now over Modern Ink – a sweet new online design magazine with laid-back aesthetic and gorgeous layouts. But we have to admit our favorite thing about the publication is the five page(!) CFK feature in their winter edition. Check it out below and then head over to Modern Ink to read the rest of the issue.

Community Spotlight: Meet Joshua Holmes

Meet Joshua Holmes, the Detroit native with a master’s in public administration, a love for all things sports-related, and a special fondness for NYC food culture. When he’s not on his long-standing quest to find the best burgers and beer in the city, you can find him on the sports field. Any sports field will do. “I play softball, racquetball, football, tennis, and basketball. Also golf and snowboarding. I enjoy reading, though I always fear I don’t do it enough.” Prod him a little though, and he’ll admit that his favorite books are pretty diverse – Freakonomics, all seven Harry Potters, Cornel West’s Race Matters, and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’ve also heard from a very reliable source that he’s consistently voted the best dressed at the annual UVa alumni holiday party – perhaps not so hard to believe of a guy who manages to pull off a red plaid bow tie.

Josh Homes, Best Dressed and Tutor Extroadinaire

The best thing about Joshua, however, is that he spends every Tuesday reading with two very special second graders at P.S. 243 – Rubayet and Trinity (Weird factoid of the day: two of Joshua’s aunts actually attended P.S. 243). Given the recent standards push for nonfiction reading skills, they’ve been working all fall on a slew of animal books, says Joshua. “I’ve gotten a sense of their reading level at this point, so we always start by picking something out that looks really interesting…There’ve been lots of snakes, birds, and birds’ nests,” he adds.

Whether they’re sounding out words, identifying main ideas, or separating fact from opinion, the most exciting part of the process for Joshua has been watching Rubayet and Trinity grow more confident in their reading. “Rubayet was more shy and bashful when we first met, but now sometimes I have a difficult time keeping him on task because he wants to talk about all kinds of things. Trinity is very bubbly and warm. She’s really kind of adorable – like a little cousin.”
Continue reading

Volunteer Magic: Fresh Spaces, New Computers

For the last ten years, P.S. 243′s computer lab has been “under construction” – a full decade of hoping they could get together the resources to provide their students the technology education they’d need to be successful throughout school.

Baruch College volunteers in the new J.P. Morgan computer lab

Finally this summer we met the folks at nPower, a national nonprofit that brings information technology services and training to other nonprofits. When they heard about the situation at our Bedford-Stuyvesant school, they brought in long-time sponsor J.P. Morgan for a little financial muscle. JPM generously donated enough machines to stock up the entire lab, thus ending the agony of yet another year minus computer education. Last but not least, muralist Caitlin Everett and a team of Baruch College volunteers joined nPower to get things set up and pretty in the brand-spanking new lab. You heard right: nonprofit + business + education + individual volunteers = solutions. That’s just how CFK rolls. Meanwhile…

Our favorite South Bronx school was facing a dilemma. CFK’s violin instructor, Mr. Majid, could probably work miracles wherever you put his classes. But this year, the increased student population at P.S. 73 (otherwise great news) pushed Mr. Majid’s violin class into an old locker/shower room (bad news).
Continue reading

Sarah Stevens Goes Medieval on Back to School Projects

On any given day this fall, CFK teachers, partner organizations, and volunteers are hard at work providing engaging educational programs to our students, and we couldn’t be more thrilled! Mr. Justin is teaching kindergarten through 3rd graders fun games to keep them active and healthy. Mr. Majid is quizzing his returning violin students on their scales. Ms. Kathleen is introducing the work of Emilio Sanchez to students at the Bronx Museum. And volunteers are exploring the adventures of Curious George, Arthur, and Babar with new second graders during tutoring. Every day new doors are being opened and opportunities are provided to eager kids ready to learn.

Sarah Stevens gets it done.

One of the most exciting program developments this fall has been the exponential growth of our volunteer tutoring efforts. In its third year, the one-on-one literacy tutoring program at PS 243 has tripled and we are continuing to train new volunteers. The school has come to rely on CFK tutors for their dedication to the students and invaluable classroom support. Once a week tutors meet with 2nd and 3rd grade students to work on critical writing and reading comprehension skills. With characters like the Bernstein Bears and Madeline to keep them busy, though, it doesn’t seem fair to call their studying “work.”

We have also seen our partnership with Fordham University at PS 73 more than triple since last spring. Fordham students drive their “Ram Vans” a few blocks south every Wednesday to pair up with 4th and 5th grade kids to write the PS 73 school newspaper. If last year’s paper is any indicator, those budding journalists will be prime to steal our jobs writing for the CFK newsletter and blog!

After only a few weeks, we can already tell this year us going to be even more exciting than last, and we can’t wait to share it with you!

iLog: Interns Meet “Bookie Monster” At P.S. 243

P.S. 243 in Brooklyn

Last week,  Jenny and I got a taste of just how much work is needed at the CFK partner schools as we visited P.S. 243 to help with summer cleaning. Traveling to the school and navigating the streets of Brooklyn’s neighborhood, Weeksville, was an adventure in itself, however; it provided a new outlook and unique perspective for us. We got to walk along the same streets the children take to school and see what they see everyday. As we took in our surroundings, we began to understand more clearly the lives of the children at P.S. 243. Overwhelmingly, the primary challenge for P.S. 243 and the other CFK partner schools is extreme poverty- each child faces it along with the factors that come with it. Children all around the country have different backgrounds with their own personal hardships to overcome, but most are lucky enough to live above the poverty line. Once again, we witnessed firsthand just how crucial it is to inspire and engage these children in the classroom at an early age in order to ensure their futures.
Continue reading

Community Spotlight: Meet Wright Harvey

Those of you who’ve been attending our school beautification days have no doubt met Wright Harvey, the artistic guru frantically prepping mural spaces, weighing in on color choices, and adding a few more dabs of paint to his already over-the-top messy work pants. You may have asked yourself, “Who is this mad artist in the paint-splattered jeans with the preternaturally organized girlfriend?” Herein, everything you ever wanted to know about Wright Harvey.

Wright Harvey in his infamous work jeans

This Naples, FL native grew up a mile from the beach and came to art early in life through the efforts of his cousin April. Together they killed long afternoons with art projects and bracelet knotting, and when he went to the University of Virginia to study econ, he also managed to spend enough time in the print shop to add a second major in visual arts.

“Of course when I graduated I relied much more heavily on the economics degree to get a job that would put a roof over my head,” he notes. Wright’s been at JPMorgan ever since, and while there are plenty of opportunities there for creative business thinking, he hadn’t had a real chance to flex his artistic muscles in a public forum in quite some time.

Enter the Change for Kids school beautification days.
Continue reading

Scenes from Saturday Tutoring

On Saturdays at 10am, our dedicated bunch of literacy tutors arrives in Bedford-Stuyvesant to work with the 3rd graders of P.S. 243. They fold themselves into undersized chairs and sit amid stacks of books and baskets of school supplies while their students work through the week’s curriculum of reading, writing and math exercises. It’s an inspiring thing to see nine-year-olds curled intently over their desks, and we like to think it’s the coolness factor of their tutors that can make arithmetic and language arts the preferred activities on a Saturday morning.

Saturday tutoring pairs pause for a quick group photo

These sessions are all about literacy—both in terms of reading comprehension and in terms of applying language to other concepts in school. If you hated math because of word problems, you know exactly the kind of paralysis some of our students experience when they read, “Two trains leave the station at the same time heading in different directions…”

It’s not all serious, though. In between Duck for President and multiplication, our tutoring pairs have found plenty of moments to look forward to from week to week. Whether they’re skipping down the halls or discussing the merits of apple juice over soda, they’re making light work of often heavy subjects.

Finally, big thanks to the contingent from Brooklyn Technical College, whose turnout has been hugely responsible for the success of this new venture. You guys are awesome.

And with that, meet a few of the folks who’ve settled into P.S. 243 for the semester:

Continue reading

Run for Kids: Family Fun, Community Conscious

If you’ve been hanging around CFK for a while, you know we devoted last summer to raising funds for fitness and nutrition education at our school in Bed-Stuy. Here’s what all your hard work accomplished.

Over the last eight months, FAN4Kids has become not only a wildly popular program with the students, but an inspiration for the greater P.S. 243 community as well. A group of teachers and administrators launched their own fitness program under the guidance of instructor Justin Jones (with the collective goal of dropping 243 pounds), and Principal Hambright is now installing a salad bar in the cafeteria.

Run for Kids 2010: And they're off! Photo credit: Deb Hymowitz

With all this hubbub over health—and in honor of the upcoming Run for Kids event—we decided to check in with Mrs. Padaya, third grade inclusion teacher and recent fitness convert. She’s added a once-a-week cardio session into her lessons to keep her students alert, and she’s managed to kick a wicked Pepsi habit after weeks of nagging from her students.

WHAT’S A HUMMUS? “My students adore FAN4Kids. All the third graders love when Mr. Justin has them sample healthy foods. Most of them have never tasted green olives, organic bean and corn salsa or hummus (One of my students asked Mr. Justin, “What’s a hummus?”). They even tasted organic whole grain nacho chips, which some said were better than Doritos. Instead of honey buns, some students eat apples. They even bust each other when they see a roll of Oreos in a lunch bag. Mr. Justin has also taught the students how to find healthier foods in the little bodegas that dot our streets like trees. It was a great lesson since there are not Whole Foods or Trader Joes in our area.”

Continue reading